Friday, September 9, 2016

Cracking down

There's a lot of upsides to riding for a long time.  I can read equine body language easily and can often spot a problem early enough to stop it from escalating.  I have a weird set of skills for doing things like cleaning tack, taming manes, and explaining how to post the trot.  The downside is that a lot of this time was spent in a discipline that I have since left behind.  And our knowledge of how a horse should be ridden changes over time.

Back in the 80's when I was a pony jock keeping my cantankerous pony Terry from dumping me in fences at Short Stirrup, dressage was still a new fangled idea.  These crazy Europeans were talking about making horses supple and obedient and trotting around with their noses down.  But hey, those Lipizzaners were awesome!  So in rural Louisiana, right around the end of the 80's, my trainer started to follow dressage.  About the same time, I turned 10 and started to ride well enough to muck around with the ponies on my own.

I learned what a shoulder in was.  Sort of.  Mostly I made my pony trot sideways down the long side.  And we leg yielded!  I booted his resistant butt until he gave up and moved over.  And if he threw his head in the air?  Just slide the bit back and forth until he puts his nose in.  I remember standing in the center of the ring, practicing doing this at the halt on my pony Hotshot.  Less troublesome than Terry, he tolerated this new set of rules with more grace. 

Fast forward a couple decades.  I've now been 'sliding the bit' to make a horse go 'round' for a long, long time.  Because it works and in the hunters, close enough.  We weren't looking for a dressage way of going, anyway.  But my hands have been see sawing for so long it's now instinct.  Horse starts to brace and go above the bit?  Left right left, knock that off.  9 times out of 10, I don't even know I'm doing it.

I got my keister merrily handed to me this week as Trainer A put the hammer down on me taking control of my hands.  I'm not going to make it past where I'm at if my hands don't quiet down when I have a contact.  I can do quiet hands when I am riding off just my seat, but put Theo on a contact and the second he braces, my hands go nuts.

Of course I'm exaggerating.  I am not sawing on my horse's mouth, this is a subtle move.  I've been doing this long enough that it's a quick left right left with my fingers.  Incorrect but no, not abusive.  Just figured I'd mention that before people think my hands are cruel and Theo is being mistreated.

So I spent the ride being told 'don't you dare!' every time my hand would start to move incorrectly.  Instead I closed my fingers on a rein, held it, then opened them on command.  And you know what?  Worked just fine once Theo realized this was the new language.  He was softer, more supple when he didn't have to worry about my hands becoming possessed and sliding the bit around.  But it's hard as hell to break a habit that you're not even aware you're doing.  Frustrating and tiring.  And I was also getting busted on using my legs correctly to get that lengthen.  So my hips were killing me.  Ugh.

I know this needs to happen and the results were excellent (real lengthenings, yay!), but I really felt the pressure.  It was my first private in a couple weeks and the whip was cracked hard.  Use my seat, quiet my hands, keep my rhythm, where the hell were my hands going?, sit down, don't pick, don't rush, more energy!, push with your seat, don't you dare with your hands!, breathe, sit deep, HANDS!

Good gravy.

Riding on my own today, I had to do my best to crack down on myself.  At one point I had to physically look down at my hands and watch them while trotting on a circle.  Seriously, the little fuckers are possessed!  Theo seems to approve of my even quieter hands.  Just a couple rides and he's starting to understand that softening to closed fingers gets him a quick release of pressure.  He doesn't have to brace against my rude hands.  But it's hard.  It's running over letters because I'm looking at my hands and not steering hard.  And I know it's not going to make any difference for Saugerties because two weeks is not enough time to reprogram that much muscle memory.  This will take months.

But if I don't get started, I'll never get there.  I can't keep putting it off until it's a good time.  I'm back to my body pillow and Icy Hot for my hips.  I haven't even written about the chewing I got for not doing my part in getting mi papi's hocks engaged.  I may need to start picking up ice cream after lessons like that.  I certainly feel battered enough . . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Plan your pee

That was one of the mottos of marching band when I was in high school.  We traveled as a group of 200 and the buses stopped for no student.  You had best plan your pee.  And with 200 high schoolers descending on a truck stop, you better plan to wait a while when you did get to stop.  It took five buses to get us moved around.

General horse knowledge says that horses can't be potty trained.  We all have stories of horses deciding that it is time to relieve some pressure while in the show ring.  At a recent show, one of the school horses got an error because his halt at X included such a long pee that he was messing with the ride times.  Fortunately, he was allowed to continue.  Theo refused to halt at X in his test because ewwwww, another horse peed there, mom.  He halted a couple feet to the right of X with a disgusted expression.  The judge let us slide.  Most horses can learn to work while dropping off some manure, but you can't really teach them to keep going when they have to pee.  There's not much you can do but hope that your horse doesn't pick the final line up at the end of your flat class to let fly.  It seems pretty random and most people will tell you that when your horse goes isn't something the horse really plans out.

Theo's weird. 

Mi papi does not manure in the aisle.  Or under saddle.  I've been riding this horse for 1.5 years and I can count the number of times he's pooped under saddle on one hand.  If I use the other hand, I can count the number of times he's pooped in the aisle.  Every time he's left a pile in the aisle, it's been a show prep day and he's been going through a round of clipping/pulling/braiding/scrubbing that includes being on the cross ties a long time.  If given any chance, he'll wait for one of his stall breaks or for his field. 

When I go to get him from his field, about half the time he'll see me coming and mosey over to one of his chosen potty spots.  He'll drop some excess weight, then come up to see me.  When I let him out, he goes back to one of those spots and repeats the process.  Most of his field is manure free, it's just a couple of spots that he likes to use.

 Next upgrade for Theo's field

It's absolutely uncanny.  He looks at me, heads to his spot, does his business, then heads to the gate to start his work day.  I've never met a horse that makes a point of peeing before coming in to be ridden.  And it's not once or twice.  It happens a couple times a week.  I call his name on the way to his gate and he takes that as his cue to take care of any bodily functions before his work day starts.  I will wait with the gate closed until he's done (I don't want to rush him) and when he's done, I go in to get him.

Anyone else have a horse that plans their pee?  Because I've never met one quite this organized.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Plug nickel

I have a habit of joking about selling my horses.  I've always done it.  At the Wanless clinic after Theo was told that he was sweet, talented, and had promise, I pet him on the neck and told him that meant he got to stay another week.  Fortunately, Mary got my dry sense of humor.

At GMHA, just after winning a spiffy blue ribbon, Theo decided to drag my ass half way across the parking lot because I didn't have a chain on him and he saw something that might be food.  As we skidded to a stop, I snapped out that I was going to sell him for a plug nickel.  A lady walking by looked him up and down and said, "I'll even give you a real nickel."  Woohoo, offers!

When I got my gorgeous picture of him cantering, I told Trainer A that we were ready for his sale flyers now.  She gave me a look.  Hehehe, just kidding, coach.  She might be a bit attached since I asked her if she'd be willing to do his Second level debut for me next year.  Of course she said yes.  She doesn't get to show anything but intro tests on green beans right now.  Do a real dressage test?  Sign her up!  It helps that mi papi really likes her and she really likes him.

But it's still a fun exercise to make up an ad.  I know several riders that make up pretend sales ads for their horses.  Sometimes when they're pissed, sometimes when they're very proud of the progress.  I know I'm not alone in this exercise.


For Sale:

Expect the Unexpected
12 year old, 16h draft cross American Warmblood studmuffin gelding

Currently competing in dressage at First level with crazy ass adult amateur rider.  Schooling most Second level movements.  Natural sitting power including his ability to spin and rear and very rhythmical.  Easy to sit.  Former school horse, can be ridden by riders of all levels including beginners with a lot of supervision, cookies, and sacrifices left on the altar of good school ponies.  More whoa than go seriously, bring your spurs, light in the bridle, goes in a loose ring snaffle.  Qualified for Region 8 championships at Training.

 Also good on the trails, alone or in a group, and safe on roads unless there is a green, plastic mail box or a razor scooter, then there is no hope.  Experience with rough trails because every dressage horse should learn how to tippy toe down granite.

Enjoys jumping, jumps up to 3' and enjoys hunter paces so long as you go slow enough that he can really check the jumps for aliens and you don't mind him putting his head between his knees on the way over and occasional bucking temper tantrums due to not getting to set the pace. Very honest and quiet to fences, jumps in a snaffle.  Not a cross country prospect because he's a weenie and slow as molasses in January.

Tolerant soul.  Really, someone should save him from this crazy lady.  Easy keeper, goes out with other horses so long as you don't really like the other horses.  Laid back personality that is a pleasure to have around the barn just don't keep him in a stall overnight if you like said stall.  Bonds to his person and enjoys grooming.  Excellent ground manners so long as you have a chain, easy to catch, good to trailer, handles overnight shows easily, and fun at clinics.

Price:  Your eternal soul.  Firm.  No, seriously, you can't afford this horse.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Energy levels

I've been doing well sticking to my six visits a week schedule.  Yesterday was a close call, since I had a long day at work and I knew papi had just had two lessons so a day off wouldn't hurt, right?  But Saturday I have plans down in Massachusetts, so I dragged my butt out to the barn.  Time to get in some time on the trails and make sure a certain someone doesn't get ring sour.

Wouldn't you know it, he was quite fresh.  Our weather broke to the usual gorgeous paradise that's New England in fall.  A high of 81 with a lovely breeze?  Yes, please!  And today it's 77.  The sun was shining and the flies have faded, so I went out with the intent to have a lovely walk down the trail bed with some trot and canter to let him stretch. 

He was happy to be out there.  Too happy, if I'm going to be frank.  I picked up a trot and he bounced along like a kid in a candy store, sitting on the bit and all but begging me for canter.  To which I say . . . wut?  Don't get me wrong, I was enjoying myself, but he's hasn't gotten any time off.  Quite to the contrary, raised poles the night before!  Dripping with sweat!  Visibly tired!  And now he's bouncing down the trail like a four year old.

Of course I let him canter down the long straight away.  I had my stirrups at jumping length (because I'm lazy and didn't put them back down after my last lesson) so I got up off his back and let him cruise along.  This made him happy.  We had to stop to do some trail maintenance with a branch across the path, then back to trot and canter.  We cantered most of the way home with the occasional brake check. 

We turned to cut across the Ritz and I spotted someone walking a horse in hand.  So I walked and sedately cut across the field.  About the same time I passed the other horse, I heard 'hand gallop!' being called down from the hill.  Trainer A had just finished her last lesson.  I shrugged, picked up a canter, and turned to go along the edge of the field.  Papi grabbed the bit and tried to bolt with a pretty decent buck.  I saw it coming three strides out so I was already in the back seat and popping his head up.  I made him finish the trip to the gate in a collected trot, which he was surprisingly okay with.  And the buck had me laughing more than anything.  Sometimes papi's gotta papi.

We opened the gate and went up to say hi to Trainer A and one of the moms.  The kids were being slow turning their horses out, so Theo and I were sent to go check on them.  So I took Mr. Studmuffin back into the field to jaunt over and see what they were up to.  Then canter back again, because as funny as he is, bucking is rude and he shouldn't think he gets to do that every canter in the field.  I had to keep him firmly on the contact and my tush firmly in the saddle, but he handled it with good grace.  He was just wound.

So wound that he jumped and struck out while being led.  And then snorted, bucked, and cantered when he went in his field.  Honestly, mi papi.

So what do I do with a horse that is more wound after his workout and who has more pop when he's getting consistent work?  And he was sweaty, it wasn't a mosey in the woods.  I'm used to horses that act up to start, then settle as the excess energy is burned off.  A couple of days of heavy work and they settle in and get more mellow.  Theo is wired backwards.  He's usually more intense and responsive at the end of a lesson and he's ready to roll when he doesn't have time off.  He was snorting and tossing his head after his run through the woods, not before.  How do I manage an increasingly fit horse that gets more intense as he works instead of working down?

Though not kicking was AWESOME.  If I can learn to harness all of that power, he's going to be unstoppable.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dancing feet

It finally dawned on me that I never posted the changes made by my farrier when I handed Theo's foot care over to him.  So here are some crappy, hard to see images of how his feet were updated.

I was too freaked about the possibility of white line to get decent before pictures, so they're just snapped off really quick and covered with sand from the indoor.  The after pictures were from a couple days after and are, naturally, also dirty.  I'm fantastic at documentation.

Front feet before:

Front feet after:

Please ignore Theo trying to paw with the right front, I swear he's not pointing.

A lot of the difference seems to be quality time with the rasp.  All the waves and bumps are gone.  He's also in a pretty substantial shoe now.  You can see the rocker toe that was added in the picture of the actual shoe.  It does seem to help with him flipping his toes and not tripping.  His toes weren't brought back that much, but it was only four weeks since his previous shoes were put on so the fact he needed a significant trim at all was a bit disturbing.

You'll also notice the complete lack of missing chunks of hoof afterward.

Hind feet before:

Hind feet after:

The hind feet were the ones that needed some adjustments.  First came the serious quality time with the rasp.  His toes were too long and the whole thing needed shaping.  Then he got the heavier shoes put on with just four nails to give the damaged parts of his hooves a chance to grow in.  They're also set back on his shorter toes, rocking the breakover point back.  And yes, there has been a difference in him not dragging his long toes and tripping on uneven ground.

The hind left was the one I was convinced had problems because it was constantly shredding and losing nails.  Looks like a totally normal foot now.  By the next trim, the last of the missing chunks should be grown out and his feet will look totally normal.

I gently asked my farrier what he thought of his previous shoes and he gently, professionally answered that there was nothing specifically wrong, Theo just needed more time with the rasp and slightly different shoes.  And to be fair, it did take my farrier a long time to reshape everything.  But yeah, cutting corners and saving time on my horse's feet just won't fly.

I got asked if I'll be splurging on aluminum shoes for our trip to regionals.  I laughed.  I'm going to be worried about teleporting randomly around the ring, not gaining 0.5 on my gait score because my horse's feet suddenly weigh less.  Maybe next year when he's done with his debutante season.  This year?  Heavy shoes may discourage him from turning into a kite because there are aliens hiding in the shrubbery.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


It's fun getting to know a horse.  When I first rode Theo, he really didn't give a rat's ass what I was doing up there, he was going to plod around and do as little as possible.  Over the past 1.5 years, we've developed a language all our own.  One heavily laced with profanities, but one we both understand.  During our lesson today, the fact that we're so aware of each other became a topic of discussion.

In an effort to encourage a certain someone to carry his weight with his haunches, we were working over raised trot poles.  My hands were giving me trouble, floating down to discourage him from bracing and only succeeding in blocking his shoulders.  Trainer A was ready to throw things at us.  Well, me, but I'm sure Theo would have had some opinions.  But at the end of the lesson, after my hands were successfully chastised, we swapped to walk/canter transitions to check our work. 

I immediately started prepping for the transition and Theo immediately started prepping because I was prepping and we managed to turn ourselves into a pair of pretzels within a couple of steps.  Which made Trainer A just stare at us for a long moment.  Because really, its a walk/canter transition.  What the hell?

'No prep with that horse! He's too into you!'

 Who, me?


If my breathing changes, Theo changes.  I shift my weight, Theo shifts.  I speak, his ears flick.  It's what we strive for, but sometimes, I need to be whacked with the 2x4 to see just how far we've come.  I don't need to prep for several steps to make sure he's listening.  He's always listening.  He might tell me to bugger off, but that's not because I surprised him.  It's because he's Theo.  Our instructions were to walk like nothing was going on, over-emphasize the fact that we're just walking, and carefully take a feel of the inside hind.  Don't let him know why!  And then ask as his hind foot hits.

Lo and behold, it worked beautifully.  Instead of our usual first stride or two being short and a bit off balance, he stepped straight from walk into canter.  In both directions, which is a score since the right lead is usually stickier.  But that is something interesting to think about.  Theo is so into me that I don't need to consciously prep.  If I do, it's going to work against me as we both get tense and twist ourselves up. 
His true nature emerges

It's going to take some practice to ride the horse I have today.  Fortunately I've ridden some very sensitive horses so I know the drill, but it's going to take some time to learn how to ride a horse that's both incredibly lazy and incredibly sensitive.   I know damn well he knows I want him to keep cantering, he's just tired and doesn't want to do it anymore.  So I may have to boot him along, but if my inside hand drifts down, I'm going to have a mess.  And gods help me if I lean.

Having a smart, sensitive horse should be considered a curse, reserved for riders you really don't like.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Little things

It's the little things that make me happy.

Like this picture.

This is mi papi's standard schooling turn out now.  We've been wearing this general set up all summer.  I love my PS of Sweden bridle and ear net (and boots, though you can't see them), but nothing holds up through the many washes of summer like Dover's basic saddle pad.  $30 bucks and I can throw it in the dryer without a problem?  I'll take 10, thanks.  And they have so many colors now.  I need to buy more.  I love my fancy pads with braiding but when he's sweating through his pad on pretty much every ride, I need something I can wash with no concern or special care.

But he looks very slick and professional and that makes me happy.  The soft purple is very flattering on him.  I really should have his black ear net on.  Hm.  I'm also happy I remembered to take a picture at all.  I'm terrible about remembering that there's this camera in my back pocket and mi papi's adorable should be shared.

Do I see his winter coat coming in already?  I better not.

Theo's also about the little things, like his brand new hunk of Himalayan salt.

Can you hear him trying to break it?  There's a reason he gets this stuff and not a regular salt lick.  This was about 30 seconds after I hung it up.  Clearly someone was excited.  I got this at Tractor Supply as a knock off brand for cheap ($5 I think).  I also found a new brand of those molasses heavy, cupcake shaped treats with a piece of candy in the middle for cheap.  $8 for a 2lb bag?  Yes, I will be spoiling my pony today.  Not quite as good as the German crack cookies in the gold bag, but he was certainly letting me know he wanted another one.

And my last little thing?  Successfully convincing Theo for just a couple minutes that horses can trot UP as well as forward.  I heard this rumor that horses can take their weight back on their haunches, lighten their front end, and trot around like that.  Theo told me that rumor was spread by communists set on destroying our nation and way of life and that is was my civic duty to ignore them.

He's a patriot.